February is here! The seemingly endless month of January is over. We made it! As long as the month felt, the beginning of the new decade saw me delving straight into my reading goals. This year I’m hoping to read another 12 classic novels in 12 months after enjoying myself so much last time around. 2020 is also the first year that I’m participating in a couple of year-long reading challenges. To motivate me to shorten my backlist as well as broaden my bookish horizons I am tackling the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, and as of last week, I impulsively decided to join Book Riot’s 2020 Read Harder Challenge. Where am I going to find the time you ask? I’m not too sure either. Besides, it’s not like I have a degree to complete or anything.
Overall, this year for me is all about quality over quantity. Is it right to judge our month by the number of books we have read? As satisfying as I find the abundance of monthly wrap-up pictures that showcase big stacks of books, this year I am embracing the joy of slow reading. I did manage to read 9 titles this January, but I’m putting that down to how relentlessly long it felt. Nevertheless, I consider January as a successful reading month down to how incredible the majority of my choices were. So, without further ado, here’s my January reading wrap-up!
Naturally Tan by Tan France (audiobook)
Naturally Tan isn’t necessarily a deep-plunging autobiography. Rather, it is an entertaining, insightful read about The Queer Eye star’s experience of suddenly landing the spotlight. Tan is an inspiring South Asian, gay, and Muslim man from a traditional family background and a childhood that involved bullying and racism. Nonetheless, these setbacks didn’t stop his teenage self from hopping on a plane to NYC without his parents’ knowledge or going on to pursue his dream of owning several fashion lines prior to Queer Eye.
Throughout, Tan interweaves some much-appreciated fashion and lifestyle tips, entertaining vignettes about his myriad of jobs, and his endearing account of how he fell in love with his husband, Rob. He’s honest and open about his anxieties, and I could just tell how much it means to him to be able to represent both the South Asian and LGBTQIA+ community. His narration and conversational approach made my reading experience feel more as if he were here chatting with me over a cuppa.
Carrie by Stephen King
This year I want to finally read more Stephen King, and where better to start than right at the beginning?
King crashes the writing party with Carrie White, a strange teenage girl with telekinetic powers who is raised by her extremely devout, widowed mother. Despite the multiple sides to her disturbed character, she is someone the reader cannot help but side with. The other girl’s at school relentlessly tease her, yet the staff seem to turn a blind eye. Alone and with no means of escape, prom night arrives. Here, she is subject to a humiliation that causes her to finally, and quite literally, reach breaking point.
King masterfully tells the story through snatches of scientific studies of telekinesis, eye-witness reports and snippets of from books and magazine article. These reports reveal characters’ responses to Carrie’s outburst ahead of time which increasingly builds up the suspense the horrific events of prom night. Only, when the haunting night arrived, I didn’t expect the events to be quite so gruesome.
*One Moment by Linda Green
Who knew a friendship between a 10-year-old Alan Titchmarsh fanatic and a 59-year-old, sheep-apron-wearing café worker could make for such an uplifting yet heart-breaking novel?
My review for this heart-warming title will be up in a month’s time as part of the paperback blog tour; watch this space.
Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (audiobook)
Just as with the 𝘏𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘺 𝘗𝘰𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 audiobooks, Stephen Fry once again proves to be an incredible narrator as his sardonic wit and charming humour breathes new life into the age-old stories of Greek mythology.
Before beginning Mythos, I had limited knowledge of the Greek Gods and Goddesses themselves. Most of the stories were completely bizarre, but Stephen Fry successfully renders them relatable for the modern age and makes them downright hilarious while doing so. He transforms tales of sexual escapades and quests for revenge into something that replicates a hectic soap opera storyline, therefore making them accessible for the mythology beginner like myself. Stephen Fry is a literary talent with an unmatched gift for storytelling and I cannot wait to read more by him and about Greek mythology.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bront
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a feminist manifesto of revolutionary power and intelligence that piqued my interest from the start. Those Brontë sisters sure know how to hook you with their brooding characters with mysterious pasts…
Helen is a transient. When she moves into the nearby manor, Wildfell Hall, the local community are eager to learn more about the dark-haired widow. Our respectful narrator, Gilbert Markham, is completely enamoured by the mysterious enigmatic stranger. He is swift to befriend her and steadfastly refutes the local gossip calling her character into question. However, grave doubts and misgivings begin to arise in his mind. It is only when Helen presents Gilbert with her diary and instructs him to read it that the truth regarding her obscure past becomes clear…
This is a story rife with intrigue, struggle and heartbreak as Helen exposes the toxic masculinity and domineering nature of the men in her society. It is understandable why Helen is an enigma to those around her. She lives alone. She earns her own living; keeps her own counsel and tells the definitive version of her own story. Helen is well-aware of the societal restrictions, and Anne Brontë brings into full focus the expropriated, estranged nature of women’s lives. It may have taken me a while to read, but I loved this Gothic romance. Anne Brontë was a true literary pioneer: showcasing realism instead of romanticism as she writes about a transgressive woman leaving her violent husband. What an absolute treat.
Verity by Colleen Hoover
Verity is a definite standout this month and I refuse to believe that it is Colleen Hoover’s first-ever thriller. While this was still one raunchy book, I never expected such a compulsive story to grip me and put my entire life on hold until I finished it. So, I can confirm: the hype is real. Never have I ever flew through a book and felt so many emotions in a short space of time: happiness, disgust, shock, sadness. You name it, I felt it.
Verity is a clever, meandering maze of a story in which struggling writer, Lowen Ashleigh, is on the brink of financial ruin and is employed by Jeremy Crawford to complete the remaining books in a successful series that his injured wife, Verity, is unable to finish. While sorting through Verity’s chaotic office, Lowen stumbles upon an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died…
Morally-questionable characters, a disturbing manuscript, a shop full of plot twists, and I was left questioning everything. I mean, those final two chapters! Oh, how I was wrong. 𝘚𝘰 𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 wrong. Now, all I am in the mood for is more domestic thrillers as gripping as this one. Yes, it thoroughly creeped me out. But…can we do it all over again?
Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness (audiobook)
Oh, fans of Queer Eye will adore this. There is more than meets the eye with Jonathan Van Ness, and this book overflows with honesty and realness. In this raw, unflinching memoir he opens up about the hardships he has faced: from enduring years of judgement and ridicule to becoming a model of self-love and acceptance. Despite having met so much trauma, he radiates fierce positivity and offers his readers a wealth of amazing advice without coming across as preachy.
I couldn’t recommend listening to the audiobook more; JVN’s narration made this one of the best audio experiences I’ve ever had. Honestly, I was laughing while walking to the gym at 6 am and usually I can just about crack a smile at that time.
At the beginning of the memoir, Jonathan asks whether you will still love him if you knew about everything he has been through and yes, I still do. In fact, even more so! This gets all the stars from me, I absolutely loved it.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
It is always intimidating beginning massively-hyped books. Across the board, this book has received glowing praise and 5-star reviews. So, it’s safe to say I am in the minority with my mere 3 stars. While I did end up enjoying An Ember in the Ashes, it was only when I was about half-way through that it truly captured my attention.
My main problem with this novel was with the one-dimensional female lead, Laia, who had all the potential to be the badass heroine that I love to see in YA fiction. Instead, I found her whiny and naïve. Characters are what make a book, and without solid characterisation, I’m less likely to enjoy it. Then, there are the two, under-developed love triangles with characters unconvincingly paired together left right and centre. Nonetheless, I relished the intense trials interspersed throughout the book and its thrilling second half. In short, I understand why so many adore this novel, but ultimately, I wasn’t blown away.
*The God Game by Danny Tobey
Win and All Your Dreams Come True™! 😉
This cyber sci-fi thriller revolves around a group of five high school geeks – the Vindicators who receive an invitation they can’t refuse: an invitation to play the G.O.D. Game. If they play and win, all their dreams come true. But if they die in the game, they die in real life… What begins as some harmless fun soon warps into something more sinister. As the virtual reality interposes itself onto real life, will they be able to escape?
I was immediately intrigued by the premise of The God Game, and, from the outset, it was incredibly immersive. It felt like a Stranger Things and Black Mirror collaboration with the scare-factor amped up a notch. The tech-savvy teens see the game as a chance for all of their dreams to come true. However, the missions, lies and promised rewards crescendo until the game becomes a prime source of their paranoia. Did my Dad really text me that or was it the game? The group dynamic crumbles as the players become mere pawns to the manipulative, omniscient AI. Just like Big Brother, it knows all and sees all. There is no off button. There is no way out.
This is an entertaining, original and engrossing story that any fans of Black Mirror will enjoy.
Have you read any of these books? What are you planning on reading in February?
*Kindly sent for free via publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.